When Beef Cookies Provoke and Permit Misogyny and Violence

If you didn’t catch this Wednesday’s episode of Law & Order: SVU (entitled Funny Valentine), it’s definitely worth checking out online. Like the entire Law & Order franchise, the episode was “ripped from the headlines.” The segment  dealt with the issue of domestic violence, using Rhianna and Chris Brown’s tumultuous (and vicious) relationship for fodder. It was a no-holds barred, unapologetic parody of the events leading up to the 2009 beat down that Chris Brown eventually meted out to Rhianna.

Fast forward five years later and the couple is canoodling and clobbering cannabis together and tweeting pictures for all who care to see. At the end of the Law & Order episode depicting their repugnant relationship, Caleb Bryant (fake Chris Brown) kills Misha (fake Rhianna) after beating her to death and throwing her corpse overboard after they ran away to Barbados following her appearance at the grand jury. It has long been my suspension that Chris Brown will eventually kill Rhianna, and when that day comes, I will shrug and offer a passive “meh.”

Black Twitter was in an uproar over the episode, saying that Law & Order had hit a new low and disparaging the actors for their poor talent. However when you consider that they were portraying two people of limited intelligence, then the acting was more than adequate.

I think it was very bold of Dick Wolf to tackle the topic of domestic violence in the manner that he and his team did, especially at Chris Brown and Rhianna’s expense. The highly publicized episode set tongues wagging on a subject that coincidentally came to a vote in the House of Representatives the day after it aired. The Violence Against Women Act passed with bipartisan support, extending its protection to cover gay men, bisexuals and transgendered individuals. I think it ought to cover everyone, including straight men who regularly have to live in the shadow and shame of getting their arses kicked by their wives and girlfriends, but that will have to be a discussion for another day. Today I want to talk about beef cookies.

Yes. Beef cookies.

To recap quickly: In the opening scene of Funny Valentine, Misha leaves the recording studio briefly and returns to find Caleb flirting with and fondling one of their backup singers. She shocked, but not surprised by what she sees.

“I can’t leave you alone for a second,” she laughs tersely.

“Yo, who you steppin’ to?” Caleb asks angrily.

“You…and this beef cookie,” Misha scoffs.

Without warning, Caleb then proceeds to smash her face, kick her in the gut and strangle her in the presence of the recording team. No one lifts a finger to help her or utters a word in protest. As is typical in street culture, no one “saw anything” during the time of the assault either. The closest the police were able to get to a statement came from the beef cookie (surreptitiously named ‘Brianna’ in the episode) was this:

Behold the "beef cookie"

Behold the “beef cookie”

“I’m a woman who knows how to keep her mouth shut when she’s supposed to,” she declared nonchalantly while examining her nails.

She had just been asked if she didn’t find the beating Misha had taken as problematic or troubling, and this was her response…which incidentally I find more troubling and problematic than the beating she witnessed.

According to the results of a survey conducted by Buzz Marketing Group polling 420 respondents ages 8-17:

  • 95 percent believe Chris Brown’s alleged actions are not acceptable or justifiable for any reason
  • 59 percent hold Chris Brown responsible for what happened
  • 33 percent blame both Rihanna and Chris Brown for what happened
  • 45 percent believe Rihanna could have provoked Chris Brown
  • Girls 13-17 were more likely to think Rihanna provoked him in some way

For any mother, feminist, or person with a pulse, these statistics are troubling; Or at least they should be.

I applaud the fact that we have laws on the books that provide women with the assistance they need after suffering sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a partner. I actually remember a time when a man could assault his wife with impunity. (Cue Tracy Chapman and Last Night I Heard the Screaming.) What I want to know is what we can do to prevent domestic violence in the first place…or at least drastically reduce the numbers. How can we change beef cookie mindsets that say that it’s okay for a man to hit a woman…and if he does so it must be as a direct result of something she did?

In India where there seems to be stories of violence against women and girls pouring out of the media almost daily, the new rallying cry is for fathers to teach their sons to respect women, rather than forcing their daughters into seclusion. I agree with this approach, wholeheartedly. However as a mother with 3 young girls of my own, I believe it is imperative that I discuss their self-worth with them early and do my best to construct an impenetrable tower of assurance in that self-worth.

I personally only know one woman who has been the victim of domestic violence, and I’m sure I have written about her here at some point. My cousin Nicole got married to her high school “sweat heart” who had impregnated her and another girl from the neighborhood 2 months before. I don’t know when he started beating her, but I know when he stopped. One night, after he had punched her in the head, she looked straight up at the ceiling as they lay in bed together and whispered “I’m going to kill you one day. I don’t know when, but I will kill you one day.”

tinaHe packed his bags and left the next morning. A few months later they were divorced. She is my HERO! Because  like many women who are in abusive relationships, she found her inner Tina Tuner and made the decision to put that man on notice – her life may have been in jeopardy, but so was his. Unfortunately, these women are not in the majority. The reality is that far more of them lose their lives as a consequence of the state of violence that they live in.

I think there is a serious need to change the conversation that we have with our daughters and sons early on in life. Girls are always told to “be sweet” and advised to let things go for the sake of peace. That’s never been a message I’ve taught in my house. I tell my girls that if someone hits them, they better retaliate with equal or more force…and if they feel like they are in danger to get out of the way quickly. No one can hurt you if you are not there.

There are no easy answers, I know. Judges, politicians, housewives and pop stars – women whom we consider successful – have all suffered the blight of domestic abuse. I suppose the one answer I really want is how do we shift the conversation from slapping a band aid on this condition to preventing it? How can we teach our girls and women to find the strength to never allow themselves to become trapped in the cycle of abuse in the first place? How do we eradicate the “beef cookie” mentality?